Here’s the second entry in my memory series.
I’m reasonably confident that fire is out to get me. Maybe I shouldn’t be… since I haven’t been “gotten” yet, but I’ve had enough run-ins. I’m going to review a few of those here.
Burning down the House
I was terrified of Thunderstorms for a long time. In fact, whenever I heard thunder, I would go into the pantry and grab one of those black yard trash bags and load up all my favorites toys and clothes in it so that I wouldn’t lose them.
In 1986, my family took a trip to a creek that was about an hour away from the house. This was a pretty routine occurrence in my childhood. My dad and lots of his friends would back some trucks up and play rock and roll while getting drunk and rowdy and pretending like they were fishing. Through this, the kids would swim at the old watering hole with the tire swing hanging from the tree over the creek.
Away from the vegetation of the creek, there was an expanse of exposed granite, giant white and gray and blue rocks that got so hot you couldn’t stand on them without hopping around. My sister and I used to pretend that we were on the moon.
That day in 1986, the moonrock wasn’t that hot because it was pouring rain. In general, we didn’t mind it. The creek was a little more fun to splash in, and you weren’t diving into a cold river… since you were already cold from the rain. However, when thunder started all the kids were kicked out of the creek and loaded back up into the cars to head home.
I don’t remember when this happened, but I remember a family friend told us our house was on fire, and my dad laughed him off. He insisted and we hurried on.
We were passed by several fire trucks on the way home.
The house was an orange and yellow beacon reaching into the sky, accented with black ghosts of studs and supports. I didn’t really smell the fire as we approached, but it filled my nostrils as we got out of the car. That bitter, acrid smell of melting plastic combined with the rich wood smell you might get out of a fireplace.
Lightning had struck the tree out on the cliff and burned a hole right through it. The tree directed the blast to my bedroom and torched it. I don’t know if that was true, or just what people told me and I happened to hang onto. I was told my dog had hidden under my blue metal framed bed, its paint peeled and rusted (She lived!)
Not a whole lot survived that fire. There was a box of photographs in an old red tin; I think my sister still has it. Some of them survived, but most are filled with people I no longer remember, or at best, people I have memories of remembering. Most are warped or stained with tan or black seers. There was also a small stuffed frog; the only toy I had from before the fire. His name was Serinski, and he was actually the password a stranger was supposed to know if he was being honest with us. No one ever used it.
The last thing to survive was our pets. The dog and the cat (along with her kittens) were all outside the house. I never learned who rescued them, but at the time I remember being profoundly grateful for it.
We didn’t have a deck. Well, scratch that. We had a small landing. It had rotted somewhat so my dad tore it down and replaced with with this massive deck he built himself over the course of the week. My dad worked for a telephone pole company and brought home a lot of materials that he used to build this thing, including 3 telephone poles.
Don’t get me wrong… The thing was pretty redneck looking. The wood wasn’t measured or even the same color in places. Odd bits jutted out here and there, and he had multiple layers of plywood covering the top of it. It was awesome. He used to joke that we could have a party and the house could fall down, but that deck wouldn’t go anywhere.
I still believe that.
The county didn’t feel that way, however. He got a notice that he built a deck without a permit, and had to tear the whole thing down. It was a real shame.
So what does this have to do with fire? Our laundry room was the room connected to the back door, where the deck had once been. Now it was sort of a giant drop off once you went out the door. One day, I opened the door to the drier, and flames shot out at me.
This could have been House Burning 2 – The Revenge. My dad was faster than that. He was in the kitchen (connected to the laundry room) and saw the flames. He shoved me out of the way, diving over 15 foot high piles of clothes to reach the drier. He opened the back door and physically launched this thing from the house.
The only thing I can say about this… I know I had put a scoop of laundry soap into the drier by mistake. Just got into weird habits. I carried this secret with me for a long time, thinking I’m the one that cost us our $50 previously owned drier. I’ve since googled this, and learned that it probably had nothing to do with it… But I still felt bad.
Only you can Prevent Forest Fires
This one is a bit shorter, and a little less meaningful. We had neighbors move in next door during my last year or two in that house. I guess they wanted to reclaim their yard, so they set the forest beside it on fire. I remember going out there and watching horrified as it burned.
I also remember seeing my then best-friend Jesse walking among the burning embers trying to dig some ruts to prevent additional spread. Of course, I think the authorities thought he did it… But then, he was sort of a pyro.
After we had moved out of that house and away from my father, I lived in the basement of my grandmother’s house. She had this little office with wall mounted bookshelves lined with (ironically) books on writing – She was an English professor. I wish I had spent some time reading those… Instead, they simply blanketed every wall of this office, nearly floor to ceiling, and grew moldy. The whole place stank of mildew, a disgusting wet odor that I’m sure has filled my lungs with some kind of growing black crap that will never leave.
I didn’t have a bed initially… Well, scratch that. I did. It was this little rickety cot that had half the springs popped… which then decided to all point upwards. Instead of a mattress, it had something comparable to packing foam. I woke up every morning covered in scratches where the metal had ripped into me while I slept. It was miserable. After about 3 months, I opted to sleep on the floor.
I had a few bedspreads and quilts spread on the floor beneath one of the bookshelves that gave me about 1/4 inch of elevation off the ground. I had no dresser or chest of drawers (which were the same thing to me until I met my wife after college and learned how uncouth I was). My clothes were folded in a pile next to my “bed” and directly underneath one of the mounted bookshelves. On top of that pile, I kept my reading lamp.
It was one of those black snake lamps, capable of being twisted in all kinds of weird angles. It was meant to hold a 15 watt bulb or something like that, but Grandmother didn’t stock them so I had a nice bright 90 watter in there. I fell asleep reading one night.
I continued to wake up with a scratchy through… And my nose was assaulted with this nasty sulfur smell. I didn’t think much of it… I wanted to sleep. In those days, I was up too late working at the Taco Bell, or playing video games… So nasty smells and throat pain wasn’t going to get me up. I tried to ignore it until I no longer could. Finally, I got up. The room was hot, and I needed a glass of water. It was dark. I staggered over to the lightswitch and flipped it on.
The light in the room didn’t change. I think “what the hell,” bulb’s burned out. So I open the door to the hall. That’s when I notice the huge cloud of smoke go rolling out. I look back into the room and see thin orange wires of fire half-obscured by the smoldering black remains of my laundry. My sleep-clouded mind decides the most important thing is to stop the source. I go unplug the lamp by yanking the plug from the wall.
Bad idea. It sends up a spark that sets the whole wall of moldy books on fire.
My mom’s door was next to mine. I opened it and casually told her I’d set the house on fire…. But not to worry, I was handling it.
Ironically, the bathroom was across the hall from me, and we had one of those hose things fastened into it so that you could bathe your dog. It was enough to stretch into the bedroom, and I was able to spray enough to prevent any spread, and a few pitchers of water later, things were completely out.
The house stank for months. I haven’t been back there in a while, but I’d be willing to bet that basement still smells like fire and smoke.
I didn’t really have money to afford campus housing, and I refused to live at home with the family (that caused some issues… Another memory on that later). One of the ways I offset this was by working for the housing department. I was an RA (we called them Peer Leaders; same thing except we got to have a freshman roommate).
My first year as a Peer Leader, I was scheduled to be in a condemned building. It wasn’t exactly condemned, but they were closing it midway through the semester and gutting it. I got to learn why.
The power ran in stripes stapled to the outside of the walls. The power outlets were likewise boxes attached outside the wall. One of these was under my desk, which was fastened to the wall as well.
There was a lot going on with this building. I remember going into the bathroom and turning on one of the faucets and watched them all come on. Great stuff.
Anyways, we got there before all the residents did and spent some time along in our building. One night, I was at my desk, lots of paperwork spread out related to the new year, and my new role.
I’m one of those people that fidget a lot. I bite my fingers til they bleed. I bounce my knee like its vibrating. I also kicked my feet. I accidentally kicked one of those converter boxes under my desk. The outlet above my desk began to spray sparks at me. I pulled away quickly, but not before some of the paperwork on the desk caught fire. At this point, I was an old pro at resisting the impending fires, so it was an easy feat to splot it out with one of my towels.
There are a few honorable mentions as well that were caused by me, but I’ll leave those for another time. Hope you enjoyed these memories.